EARTHLY FATHER, HEAVENLY FATHER
HEAVENLY FATHER, EARTHLY FATHER
By Hannah Neser
When I was 14 years old I thought I was the luckiest kid in the world with the luckiest life. I lived in a beautiful beach town in California, had good friends, and the best family anyone could ask for. I had two older brothers, and I loved being the youngest. I loved being so close to all of my cousins and getting to see my extended family on a weekly basis. But mostly, I loved my parents. I loved my mom and dad and the relationship we had. The three of us were so close and I would often fall asleep on the couch in their room while we stayed up watching movies or shows together. I loved my childhood—every little thing about it.
That year one of my oldest brothers left to serve our church for a couple years, and the other started his freshman year at BYU. I was so excited for the upcoming year. It was just going to be me, my mom, and my dad at home, and I was looking forward to having the high school experience I watched my brothers have.
Little did I know coming home from my first day of school that my life was about to be completely flipped upside down. That night, my parents sat me down and told me my dad would be moving out and that they were going to separate. My entire world shattered. I didn’t know how to be a child of divorce. Growing up I would always think about my friend’s parents who would get divorced and couldn’t even fathom the idea of my parents not being together. Then, it happened to me, completely out of the blue, and I was angry and confused.
Growing up in a religious home, I was taught about the sacredness of families. I learned that you’re supposed to have a righteous father and a righteous mother who you would honor and love and be with forever. But a few years before the divorce my dad slowly started distancing himself from his faith. This wasn’t unseen by me. I knew he didn’t have a testimony and that he wasn’t living righteously. But he was still always there for me—he was still a worthy father.
After the separation he became someone I didn’t recognize. He was emotionally abusive, manipulative, and an alcoholic. Within months he went from being my father, my protector, and my best friend to someone I no longer had a relationship with.
I felt like my life that I had known before had been a complete lie. We ended up losing our house and our car, and my mom was put in a deep financial crisis. Now that it was just me and her we had to rely on each other for everything. The pressure led us to take a lot of anger out on each other. In my young and bitter ninth-grade mind, it was hard for me to remember that her husband of almost 20 years had abandoned her and left her with absolutely nothing. I was so focused on what I had lost. I often wondered how we would possibly survive. I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Having the loving and faithful mother that I did, she still took me to church every Sunday and dragged me to school (literally dragged me most days) to try to keep my life as normal as possible. I was amazed at her strength and the capacity she had to get through this alone. She instantly became both mother and father—her faith was unwavering.
After the dust settled and I grew up a bit more, I realized I had a decision to make. Was I going to constantly be thinking “Why me?” Or, was I going to learn to rely on the Father I still did have. My Father in Heaven. Turning to Him was never easy and learning to pray to Him was even harder. I was once taught that learning to pray is like learning a new language. It takes practice and patience to pray effectively. For years, I would fall to my knees and plead with my Heavenly Father to take the pain away, to soften my heart so that I could heal. But I still couldn’t let go of everything that had been taken away from me. How could I learn to forgive? I lived with this pain for a long time.
Over the next eight years I learned to trust in my Heavenly Father, and come to know my Savior. He had carried me in times I couldn’t move, and eventually led me to New York City at 23 years old where I hustled my way to my dream job. I was feeling great. I loved my life again. I still had the best family with beautiful new additions. I had made some of my best friends, and had never worked harder in my life. I had come full circle and was living the life I had always wanted, I was so grateful for everything, especially the testimony I had gained through those trying years. My faith, like my mother’s, had become unwavering. I even believed I had forgiven my Dad.
Then, one day, eight and a half years since the last time I saw him, I found myself standing over my father’s hospital bed—the bed of someone I had once known, but did not recognize anymore. There he was, lying next to me. It was terrifying to not know my father. He had had a heart attack and developed cirrhosis of the liver (alcoholic liver disease). He was succumbing to the choices he had made years before. I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. This was a person who had once taken everything from me, and hurt me so much. Looking at him, I knew I was still holding on to that pain and anger.
It was a very confusing time for me, trying to work out my feelings toward my father. Had I actually forgiven him? Or had I just tried to forget everything that he had done and bury it deep down? I again found myself pleading with my Father in Heaven for answers. For any kind of direction. It felt like my life was being flipped upside down again—I thought everything I had worked so hard for was going to be taken away, again.
He died six months later, and I was surprised to find that I finally felt free of the pain he had caused me. I don’t know why it took him dying to soften my heart, but I want to believe it was because I could finally hand over the burden of all his pain and his bad choices to my Heavenly Father.
It was strange that everything I had been begging for for years finally came. I was almost unsettled at the peace I felt from my own father’s death. I wish my Dad could have changed in this life, but I think the Lord knew that he wasn’t capable of change here on earth after all he had been through and all the choices he had made. Instead, Heavenly Father brought my Dad home and healed my broken heart at the same time. My pain and suffering was no more, and I believe it’s all because of the trust I put into my Heavenly Father. It was never easy, I had to hold onto Him with every ounce of strength that I had for so many years.
My dad has returned home to his Father. He too has been freed from all of the pain and suffering he had endured through all of the years. He now has the opportunity to stand before his Father pleading for forgiveness and to be cleansed of his sins. He has his Savior standing by his side as his advocate. Because of Jesus Christ and his infinite atonement we are all able to return home. To be cleansed. To live in an eternal state with our Father in Heaven. He is waiting for us to return home and I know he was waiting for my dad. Because of the knowledge I have gained throughout the trials he has given me, I have never felt closer to my earthly father and my Heavenly Father.